When I was a child, the oncoming Sabbath was a noticeable thing. The atmosphere, joyful routines, flavour-filled Sabbath dinners cooked over wood fires, Sabbath hymns and a dessert to die for were an entrenched part of Sabbath preparations in my home as a child.
It’s three decades later.
I have my own home where I am making my own Sabbath memories, but I ungrudgingly admit that none of my own ever seem to match up to these lingering memories that assail me with nostalgia from Friday evenings from those younger, yonder years.
A wave of anticipation whenever the morning arrives reminds me that this is Sabbath Preparations Day, and as I wrap up this post way later than I’d planned, I am cognizant that my guest, the Sabbath is about to arrive; a guest frequently hosted in my mother’s home back there in rural St Ann.
And I’m grateful to my mother, Josephine Lewars. For no one better could have taught me how to welcome the Sabbath with colour and style.
In this reflective post, I’m happy to share with you 10 poignant vignettes from that time celebrated as Sabbath preparation day and why I have attached such specialness to them.
1. Still, radiant sunsets
If the brilliant hues of a tropical sunset didn’t arrest your attention, then the stillness and the build up of anticipation that heralded the blessed Sabbath most certainly did.
Sabbath was a tangible feeling in the air, the flambouyant hues of the tropical sky, the smouldering earthy, sweet wisps of setting potato pudding mixed with burnt coal perfumed and added expectancy and celebration to my home atmosphere.
2. Welcome Sabbath Songs and coconut chores
My mother’s deep and melodic alto voice singing ‘Welcome, Welcome blessed Sabbath day’ would join with the rustling leaves twirling excitedly in the playful puffs of wind as she bent her back and scraped a coconut bunker broom across the yard.
Inside, my sister and I would scowl at our hands, polished reddened by the floor polish, and immediately get back to pirouetting across the wooden floor balanced on the coconut brush and cloth we were using (our quick polishing solution) to achieve a smear-free shine that we could see our faces through when we were done.
3. Quick Friday dinners
We would have had dinner by at least three in the afternoon. My mother made brisk work of dinner. Flour dumplings were kneaded and dropped one by one into a bubbling iron pot licked by the vivid orange flames of an open wood fire. Maybe it was because so many hungry eyes and murmuring stomachs were watching it, but the iron pot made quick work of its task to cook the contents and get food onto our plate.
4. Hand-Grated Pudd’n’
As she took off the bubbling pot, my mother would start grating coconut for the Sabbath pudding. Sabbath was not Sabbath without pudding in Seventh-day Adventist homes back then. It is still my mother’s tradition today, though puddings and totoes are now replaced with the occasional cake mix cake.
Back then, Sabbath puddings were baked over open coal pot covered with burning brambles and coal. (we giggled at the name my mother called her baking method which had been passed down from my grandmother and her mother before her.) It was called, Hell a top, hell a bottom, Hallelujah in the middle. The fire on the zinc covering the pudding being the ‘hell”; ‘Hallelujah’ of course, referring to the sweet results.
While the pudding baked, we finished dinner. As she removed the potato pudding, she shouted to us to go shower.
5. Fricasee, Escoveith for Sabbath lunch
Over an open wood-fire or the stove, she may also have a deep dutch pot of fricasseed chicken or a skillet with Fried Fish which she would then escoveitch. This was done by drizzling over the finished fish a tangy pickle vinaigrette made with sliced onions, hot scotch bonnet peppers, sweet peppers and julienned carrots and soaked in vinegar. When this pickle soaked into the fish, oooh-la-la. Sheer heaven in the mouth, mon.
Fricasseed chicken or Fried Escoveitched fish served with Rice and peas, a traditional Jamaican dish of rice and red kidney beans cooked ’til flaky in coconut milk seasoned with scotch bonnet pepper, stalks of skellion and bunch of thyme, some pimento seeds (optional) and a ‘tups’ (teaspoon) of sugar was a regular fare on the Sabbath dinner menu; as was bringing home guests for Sabbath lunch.
6. Clothes ironed before Sunset
My mother would, of course, have ‘cotched’ an iron at the side of the coal pot so it could go on heating. Back then, electric irons were not so popular in my community so much, or maybe my parents wanted to conserve the bill, but my earliest recollection of ironing in my home as a girl looked like this.
My mother did most of the ironing. Later when we were able, pressing our church clothes became our Friday evening chore.
In my mother’s house, no ironing or other physical labour could be done within the Sabbath hours.
7. Hustles and bustles and Happy Jigs
Pudding done, she would put out her fire, scattering the embers and throwing water on live coals to ensure they go out. Still singing a Sabbath hymn or a lively praise chorus to which she often did a happy little jig, she bustled about tidying the house or yelling for us to hit the bathroom for our evening bath.
8. Lock down
By 5 p.m. all Sabbath preparations are complete. Some days it was earlier. By the time she finished, ashy evening shadows would be taking their first strides across a rustic red- burnished-gold sky.
She turns in, locks down, sending a message to all within and without her gates that her Sabbath rest had begun.
No stranger dared call my mother once she had locked down. “Hey, a me sabbath hours now, you know,” she would answer crossly.
She says the same thing today if busy neighbours should ever visit her on Sabbath evening or worst, on the Sabbath day.
9. Sabbath Vespers with Family
Inside, she gathered us around her on her bed. We knew it was time for Sabbath worship. I often squirmed in misery, wanting to play instead. She pulled out her very worn hymnal and bible (which, by the way, were never dusty) and started singing Sabbath songs like “Safely through Another Week,” “Holy Sabbath Day of Rest,” and “Oh day of rest and gladness” and many other old favourites, some I don’t remember now as they are no longer be found in the current revised hymnal.
10. Early to bed, early to rise
Sabbath School Lesson review, a devotional reading, and prayer done, we headed to bed. Tomorrow was church, and we had to be up early to catch Sabbath school which started at 9:15 a.m. sharp.
My mother could not under any circumstance be late for Sabbath school. In fact, she would often be standing on the porch as the deacon opened up the church doors, a standard she remains to this very day as a 70 odd-year-old lady.
“Me nah late fe church,” she would reiterate when we refused to budge when she called as early as 5:30 on Sabbath mornings. She had no guilt leaving her tardy brood behind while insisting that she “cannot miss” the song service session that precedes Sabbath School.
Conclusion — Changes
Today, much of the importance, prestige and impeccable routines once assigned to Sabbath preparations have changed as Adventist priorities appear to shift, families change and the church adapts to a modern pace.
Some of the once strict observances of my childhood have unfortunately been abandoned or become blurred by contemporary activities that come with the fast pace of busy lifestyles and modern conveniences and habits.
Sabbath preparations, even while not observed in some homes as strictly as it once was, is still mindfully practiced by fourth commandment keepers in the Adventist faith the world over. And as I said when I started this post, in the city and in the rural parts of Jamaica, the oncoming Sabbath is still a noticeable thing.
As I write this, it’s almost 3:00 on a Friday afternoon. If you look around you, you’ll see them now in the supermarket, Seventh-day Adventists, getting Sabbath shopping done. The old-timers, like my mother, if you were to visit her in her district home in St Ann now, would be finishing dinner. Her ironing would have been done since Thursday. Similarly, any market trips to “catch the freshest produce”.
When the sun sets this evening — and for her, that will be at 6:00 p.m. despite the weatherman indicating sunset at 6:47 p.m.in St Ann– she will call her grand kids to her side; the yellowed pages of her hymnal will spin and finally come to rest at Hymn number 384.
Then her mellow voice will boom out a song with poignant associations to the start of the Sabbath hours, “Safely through another week / God has brought us on our way; Let us now a blessing seek/ Waiting in His courts today; Day of all the week the best/ Emblem of Eternal rest, Day of all the week the best/ Emblem of Eternal rest.
Her face will have a contented smile, because she has a date with her Master and she is well prepared to receive Him.
The Sabbath she had longed for all week has come; she is in her element, and there is no competing joy.
It’s now 5:00 p.m. Friday afternoon. It’s Sabbath Preparation Day. I am by no means as earnest in my Sabbath preparations as my mother.
Dinner’s not done yet, and there’s no pudding in my refrigerator.
I have a gas stove in my home so Sabbath lunch may not be cold rice and peas, as sweet as that was when I was 10.
Yes, I am a victim of modern convenience.
Yet, it doesn’t change the feeling that something special will happen in an hour or so from now. It’s the end of a work week and the beginning of Sabbath.
The need to worship is rising.
My house must be tidy. The atmosphere must be right to welcome the Sabbath.
And funny enough, despite or because of the Sabbath my mother taught me so well to observe with joy, I now feel a sudden urge to do one of her happy jigs.
Are you a Seventh-day Adventist Christian who celebrates the 7th day Sabbath and grew up in the 80’s or 90’s? Do you still do Sabbath preparation routines in your home? Let’s continue the conversation on Facebook. Or, if you wish, please leave a comment below this post.